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Posts Tagged ‘netbooks’

HP Mini 1000 – Further Impressions

March 3rd, 2009 8 comments

Having had my HP Mini 1000 (or technically, a 1004TU) for about a couple of months now, I thought I’d write up some of my impressions that turn up after the initial “Ooh! Shiny!” aspect has worn off. Some of these I touched on in my original post.

Firstly, I do like the machine, and the keyboard is nice to type on. It’s the first thing that people notice, and several people have commented on getting a similar model solely because of the keyboard. What they don’t notice is the lack of back light, luminescent keys glyphs, or anything that lets you use it in the dark. Immediately after that observation, everyone complains that the mousepad buttons are weird – though the layout frees up space, and I’m used to it now – and that they keep hitting the touch pad when trying to type – which I also still do after two months.

After a bit of fluffing, it appears that HP will send me my cash back. This is good, because frankly, I think the initial price I saw it for (NZD$900) is over priced. It’s good, but it’s not that good. What follows now is a list of my gripes that are only mitigated by the fact that I got it for a steal during a boxing day sale at 20% off ($720 minus a further $100 via cash back). These issues aren’t enough to make me chuck it on trademe, and go buy something else, but they are annoying, and worth noting for anyone thinking of buying one.

In the normal course of events, such as putting the device in a bag, it’s possible for the screen to touch the keyboard. This leaves marks on the screen, which is bad. To alleviate this problem, the unit comes with this weird cloth thing that you need to put between the screen and the keyboard when you close it. Naturally, you will lose this cloth, repeatedly. A couple of rubber stops at the top of the screen would have fixed this, but clearly HP has decided short term sales aesthetics must override the long term usability of not having a smudged grid pattern permanently etched into the screen.

The battery just scrapes in at three hours. This is high enough to be useful, but low enough to be annoying. In addition, it takes about as long to recharge, which is also frustrating.

The sound volume is all kinds of weird. It’s impossible to hear anything until the volume is cranked up to about 85%, and then the volume rises rapidly. This weirdness actually prompted me to hunt down the volume control resolution in gconf (/apps/gnome_settings_daemon/volume_step), and may have caused temporary deafness a couple of times.

The bizarre ports configuration is where this netbook really falls down. The combination 3.5mm head/microphone jack means that I can’t use my regular headset for skype. and the built in microphone is rubbish. The obvious solution is to use bluetooth, but HP clearly felt that it was important to get that extra 50 cents they saved by removing bluetooth from my model. Of course, it’s possible to use a USB bluetooth module, but this takes away one of the two precious external USB ports. There is a third one, but that’s recessed a good 3cm into the case simply so HP can ream you once more for their propriety-but-not-really HP Mobile Drive, which is really just a generic USB drive with some extra plastic on it. Rounding off this lazy rendition of embrace and extend is the expansion port on the left side, which, in theory – supports power, USB, VGA, and audio, thus allowing a docking station of sorts.
Except that I still can’t buy cables for it. So, I have no VGA out, or docking capability.
They even managed to screw up the camera.

Finally, the screen tilts back just far enough to make it virtually impossible to use while crashed out on a couch. Words cannot express how much this disappoints me.

Finally, the ethernet is kind of buggy. If it’s not plugged in when you turn the device on then, you don’t have ethernet. If you then unplug said ethernet cable, the kernel panics and the whole machine locks up. Awesome.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy with my purchase, but only because I managed to get it at such a low price. If I’d paid the full price of $900 or so, I’d be feeling somewhat ripped right now.

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Linux, Netbooks, and ARM

January 8th, 2009 Comments off

There’s a storm brewing in a small hot beverage container on OSNews over Freescale’s announcement of their ARM based MX515 CPU for the exploding netbook market. ARM isn’t x86. In practical terms, it means that any netbooks built on Freescales hardware won’t be capable of running Microsoft Windows. The argument on the article’s forum essentially boils down to; “Do people need Windows on netbooks?” with the implied “If we people were forced to run Linux on their netbook, would they really care?”

Well, maybe.

The buying public has the annoying – some would say innovative – habit of not doing exactly what the manufacturer expect with a given product. Users are supposed to browse the ‘net, and perhaps do some light document editing/reading. In other words, a PDA with a browser and the ability to do ‘real’ computing work if you need to.

The second part is the bit that can give people trouble. The chief market for netbooks thus far does not appear to be the enterprise. For an enterprise, the perception so far, whether real, imagined, or simply spurious, is that netbooks are simply not powerful enough for your average corporate user. The potential savings in hardware costs by providing users with a netbook to go along with their desktop instead of a dockable business class laptop are minimal when compared to the cost of providing administration and software licenses for two pieces of hardware.

For this reason, netbooks appear to be very much a consumer product. Some people will use them as their only machine, but most people are probably looking to use this as a portable device to supplement their existing desktop experience.

It seems fair to say that for web browsing, most users won’t notice the difference between MS/IE and Linux/Firefox (except for the lack of spyware and viruses), and given the minimal hassles I’ve had with the Ubuntu 8.04 desktop I set up for a non-technical friend this early last year, I’m inclined to take the position that the question of Linux on the desktop is more closely connected to the users perception than anything technical.

This perception is apparently quite deeply rooted in when a given user was given control over their first computer. The average Windows power user, who has clocked up enough time to have owned a computer with a CRT is probably deeply concerned that the Linux desktop isn’t exactly like Windows – and is mystified that Linux programmers don’t care. Someone who has only used Windows at work in a controlled corporate environment is likely to accept what ever they get, as long as it works. The average child who has yet to hit teenage-hood, for whom the Internet has always existed, and is likely adept at manipulating the wildly varying interfaces on various cellphones and game consoles is probably not going to even notice.

It’s this last set that I think Freescale is targeting. Sure, many parents spoil their kids, but when it comes to buying a new netbook for each progeny, the majority of parents are going to buy the USD$199 netbook with the eight hour battery over the $399 netbook with the six hour battery as a matter of simple economics.

Possible Part Two coming eventually.

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